Boy, my suggestion that we refer House Bill 1100 to a vote and derail with a simple petition Governor Kristi Noem’s plan to delay Initiated Measure 26’s medical marijuana program must have really rattled the Senate. They didn’t back off HB 1100—the bill still delays the people’s will by six months or more—but they did vote to legalize medical and recreational marijuana.
On Monday Senators approved amendments to that bill which would allow people 21 years old and older to possess no more than one ounce of marijuana. Additionally, the amendments would allow people 21 and older to ingest marijuana.
“It allows the will of the people to be said and heard, at least to some degree, should it pass successfully through our legislative body,” Republican Sen. Blake Curd of Sioux Falls said [Dan Santella, “South Dakota Senate Amends HB 1100 to Allow Marijuana Possession, Ingestion,” KELO-TV, 2021.03.08].
Remember, IM 26 was limited to medical marijuana. This remarkable compromise gives cannabis advocates a key part of what they lost when Governor Noem successfully crushed Amendment A in court: the ability to tote and toke the demon weed without hassle from the cops or a doctor’s note.
With 29 out of 35 Senators voting to make pot legal to buy time to implement the IM 26 medical marijuana program, the Senate is showing some political smarts. By making recreational marijuana legal right now while delaying the details of the medical marijuana program, the Senate is protecting itself and the Governor from a potential public backlash. Cannabis advocates are angry about both the judicial repeal of Amendment A and the IM 26 delay. Smart campaigners could capitalize on that anger and use it to fuel petition drives this year and candidate campaigns next year. But how could IM 26 backers get supporters to sign a petition to refer the delay of medical marijuana if that action would also suspend the legalization of recreational marijuana? By acceding now to the national and likely inevitable trend of pot legalization, the Senate defuses a populist bomb and gives political opponents one less 2022 election rallying point.
The legalization amendment sends HB 1100 back to the House, where the simple delay passed last month 40–28. The House is an owlier place, less inclined, I suspect to give in to letting South Dakotans get high on anything other than well-taxed and reputably lobbied alcohol. Expect some Senators to stroll across the Rotunda today to explain to their House colleagues the political wisdom of helping IM 26 and Amendment A supporters relax by passing this new version of HB 1100.